Judge Beverly Cutler was interviewed on January 25, 2012 by Karen Brewster and Margaret Russell at her home in Palmer, Alaska. Beverly Cutler grew up near Washington, DC and earned a law degree from Yale Law School. She came to Alaska in 1974 as a research attorney for the Alaska Judicial Council. She went on to be an assistant public defender, a District Court judge in Anchorage, and in 1982 was appointed the first judge of the new Superior Court in Palmer. She was the first woman appointed as a Superior Court judge, and retired in 2009. In this interview, she talks about her family and educational background, her research work for the Alaska Judicial Council, working as a public defender, becoming a judge, setting up the court in Palmer, being a single court judge in a small community, her mentors, types of cases she handled, sentencing rules, handling criticism, balancing work and family, and being a woman in the judicial system.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Judges of Alaska
Date of Interview: Jan 25, 2012
Narrator(s): Judge Beverly Cutler
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster, Margaret Russell
Videographer: Karen Brewster
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Coming to Alaska
College and law school education
Deciding to go to law school and become a lawyer
Women in law school and influence of all girls education
First job in Alaska -- research attorney
Getting a job in the Anchorage Public Defender's office
What it was like working as a public defender
Becoming a District Court judge in Anchorage
Being a young judge
Appointment as Superior Court judge in Palmer in 1982
Connection with Barrow Superior Court judge, Michael Jeffery
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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
KAREN BREWSTER: This is Karen Brewster and today is January 25, 2012 and I am here with Judge Beverly Cutler at her home in Palmer, Alaska.
And also joined by Margaret Russell and this is an interview for the Judges Oral History Project for Project Jukebox.
Thank you Bev for letting us come visit you in your beautiful home here.
To get us started, I'm just going to ask you a little bit -- tell us a little about your personal background,
where you're from and things like that.
BEVERLY CUTLER: Well that's easy. I grew up in the East Coast.
Outside of Washington, DC in a Maryland suburb and I was a
middle child and middle of daughters, so I had an older sister, a brother under me and a younger sister and I think
I had the benefit of my dad being stuck with educating the girls since he didn’t have sons to educate for a while. So I
fortunately grew up with parents who really were very, you know, education oriented and really did believe in educating their daughters.
I had a twin sister who did not live even to be age two and I think that
kind of a sadness that my mom had over that probably
in a lot of ways when I look back at my life and I think about and watch people raise their kids and who gets independence and
who doesn’t I think that actually a lot of women whose moms had a sadness in their life and didn’t really attach and smother --
I’m sure they attach the daughters but didn’t smother their daughters I think
ended up giving their daughters more freedom to grow up and be, you know, individuals.
And it's interesting I think my older sister didn’t have that freedom, but my younger sister did and as Margaret knows she's --
my younger sister is an attorney in Anchorage and I
really learned a lot from watching my parents be proud of her becoming an attorney because you couldn’t really see it with yourself, you know.
You don’t think your parents ever approve of you as much as if you would just be the person they wanted you to be or whatever.
So I think she would probably say the same thing that we had that kind of family that really
did educate the girls even though the boy was definitely very much the beloved
first and only son named after the father and all of that. So --
KAREN BREWSTER: And what year were you born?
BEVERLY CUTLER: I was born in ’49 and I came to Alaska in ’74 and I was just getting out of law school.
In fact, I left law school a little bit early because --
how can I describe it.
I actually took a job sight unseen and the person wanted me to start the job April 1st
and I knew I wouldn’t even be graduating until the middle of May and somehow I talked him into May 1st and then somehow that became May 20th
and I was doing a very typical --
only interest I had in coming to Alaska was that some guy that I had
somehow become smitten with that year was thinking of coming to Alaska so I looked for a job
in Alaska and it just, you know, it just happened.
Like a lot of people came for what was envisioned as a one year job and stayed, you know.
I think this must be almost four decades now, ’74 to 2012, but it just -- I think the --
to me it's really interesting the serendipitous things that happen in your life.
I had already been married once and not married after two years and so I think that often propels you to,
you know, to try to start over and I really had no sense of Alaska at all.
I was on the East Coast. I'd actually gone to college in California and I don’t think I ever would have come to Alaska if I hadn’t gone to college in California
and actually as part of a college trip got to go to Russia, which then was the Soviet Union.
And then going to Alaska didn’t seem so crazy after being in Russia in the winter, but I mean really I had no particular interest in Alaska. I had no particular interest in hunting and fishing.
I remember reading "Wagon Train" books as a girl, you know, and all the Laura Ingalls Wilder stuff, but I had absolutely --
I mean I did not come to Alaska for the reasons that most people came, but, you know, it was for a job.
And just sort of to get a start out of law school you have to start somewhere and
even today where our kids are struggling and they say the job market is so terrible there is a part of me that thinks, you know,
everyone has to get their life started somehow and sometimes you just --
I mean a lot of today’s kids might take a job in China or who knows where and just see what happens, you know.
Take it for a year and I guess it is also to me a very --
I think my younger sister and I we used to defend ourselves about moving to Alaska.
We’d say we just -- we had just been raised as good little Americans and that showed that they had successfully raised us because it was,
you know, not go west young man anymore, it was go north or northwest and I think they still to this day really --
my parents aren’t alive anymore but for a long time they really did wonder how Alaska snagged two of their daughters, you know.
And it was very separately. I mean she is much younger than I am and came up much later.
KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. I'm just going to back us up a second to your education. Where did you go to college and law school?
BEVERLY CUTLER: I went -- actually I went to all girls high schools, which was, of course, back in the 50’s and 60’s,
not as strange as it seems now, but I went to
college at Stanford University, which was just a dream come true to me because I didn’t have to go to a girls school anymore.
I just thought, you know, my parents were like, well what’s the matter with Wellesley or Bryn Mawr or some nice place and I really --
I really credit my dad for being pretty supportive about picking Stanford. To him --
He -- he was always the one who was willing to try something, you know,
to try a food that he'd never tasted or to try, you know, something a little bit different.
And if he hadn’t let me go there, I think my life would have been very, very different because that was really my first sort of
getting away from that East Coast city life.
Even though we lived in a suburb it was still definitely a city life
and California in the 60’s was thought to be very far away from the East Coast.
And it was before all the campus unrest stuff that had people worried about, you know, Berkeley and whatnot, but
that was really probably the most positive -- way more positive experience than law school.
And I would have stayed in California forever if there were jobs, but there weren’t jobs even then there weren’t a
plethora of law jobs that the women were starting to go to law school.
And I mean I think there were definitely some jobs, but you had to be really at the tippy top of your game and really committed I think to get a perfect San Francisco law firm job.
KAREN BREWSTER: Did you go to Stanford for law school?
BEVERLY CUTLER: No, I went to Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut and I went right after college.
And I think a part of me knew that if I didn’t go then I would never go because when I tasted
freedom from academic work, I probably would find it so nice not to be constantly in a grind because I think that kind of academia
and even an all girls high school you really are very driven academically and it's wonderful,
but it is -- it's nice to, you know, not always have that pressure and also
to, you know, sample some other things in life besides just academic pursuit and success.
KAREN BREWSTER: Why did you decide to go to law school?
BEVERLY CUTLER: You know that -- that’s a very interesting question and I’m going to say that I think
for me personally I grew up with summer jobs that were for the most part political or quasi-political and I had had --
I mean I did work as a camp counselor one summer, but when I think about -- I mean even the jobs I had at 15, 16 and 17 in the summer were,
you know, licking stamps for some congressman or something like that because I grew up as a Washington, DC inside the beltway brat sort of, and
so I'm sure I got interested in the legal field --
I even got to work for Senator Robert Kennedy one summer, which was just great fun and, you know, and you're just with another
pack of 16 and 17 year old kids licking stamps and signing the senator’s name with
this fancy -- they had a, like a signing pen. Actually held an ink pen we signed the senator’s signature to the letters.
I mean this was before, you know, all the fancy printing and stuff we have now.
But I worked a couple of summers for something called the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights under Law.
And I mean those jobs -- I think one was when I was 18 or 19 and one was when I was 20 or 21, but --
and I was basically an office assistant of, you know, some kind, but they weren’t really huge offices and so
you got to meet the people and I think I've never really thought about -- I haven’t thought about this in a long time, but one of the -- there were
very few women lawyers that did work with that Lawyer’s Committee
but one of them I remember meeting her and she was probably, you know, 24 or 25, 26 years old. To me
she was like a big girl, you know, like a big sister and I think if I’m right --
I’ve never told her this, but I think she was pretty inspiring. I think her
uncle maybe was a Supreme Court justice, US Supreme Court justice named Byron White. Whizzer White was his nickname and he was well known in that generation.
Her name was Sharon White.
I'm not sure if she was married and she'd married into that family, but I remember her talking about Uncle Byron
and she just seemed so natural and pleasant. She had, you know,
pretty nice clothes and pretty nice heels, but she was like the first really nice woman lawyer I met who also seemed very womanly and sisterly and yet she was --
she was obviously smart, but she didn’t -- she wasn’t aggressive in a way that kind of put you off.
So I think having an experience where you actually see a woman attorney way before you go to law school maybe influences you a little bit.
When I think about it now I also remember that -- My dad, he was a law firm lawyer in a big DC firm.
That firm was just beginning to hire a couple of women that were
coming out of classes at places like University of Michigan, a really good law school, you know, in like maybe ’69 or ’70, so a little bit ahead of -- I was in the class of ’74.
And, you know, the guys would talk about them. They were really good.
And the women like my mother were very -- they were not happy that these women were being hired and, you know, that whole -- this
just very new and the ones who were hired seemed to me pretty aggressive.
And they were very smart, but they were trying very hard to be like men so I sort of felt caught in this.
I mean I could see my mother sort of bristling over the few smart women lawyers that had come along and it would travel, you know, travel to the what the deposition or the New York meeting or whatever they did in those days.
And so I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, you know.
MARGARET RUSSELL: And your father -- was your father worried about your getting into such a competitive field for women at that point?
BEVERLY CUTLER: No, at all and I think actually, I think my dad really, you know, we all feel that what we do is the real thing
so I think he thinks that or thought, you know, the corporate -- the world of corporate lawyers was the pinnacle and was his,
you know, I always thought I was very disa -- a disappointment not to go into that world.
I don’t really think he's disa -- he ever was disappointed, but, you know, I definitely --
personally and I’d say this to anybody, I was not good enough to do that.
And I mean I suppose if you really set your mind to it
maybe you could be that good and so maybe it's a combination of do you want to do it and are you really good enough, but,
you know the bottom line is I don’t think I was good enough
and I don’t think I have any apology to make, but it also didn’t appeal to me that much.
Both my younger sister and my younger brother are law firm lawyers in pretty successful situations and, you know, decent firms and stuff, but --
and I don’t think I’m any less good than they are, but I think those women were just really good.
I mean you're talking about your people that really are at the very top of their class at Yale or Harvard or Michigan and probably
got really high grades on their tests and really --
You know, I don’t think that for me even if I could do that I think I would have felt like I was doing that just to please
my parents or please relatives that expected you to follow in those footsteps.
So I do feel -- I just think it was just a lucky convergence of circumstances that the first job I had up here led to
another job which led to the first judge job.
And they were all connected with the fact that to me going to court was fun and interesting and lively
and such a different world and it wasn’t less legal. It just,
you know, most of the law schools your focused education is all on the appellate cases and,
you know, that's how law is made and whatnot.
I guess it was just -- it was like dancing instead of studying dancing to be
working in the courtroom and I just from the very beginning of my first job here
I had got this sense from a few of the people that -- My first job involved interviewing a bunch of people,
and most of them were district attorneys or public defenders or trial court judges.
I think we can just let the phone ring if that's okay with you.
And I don’t know it was just a very different world.
I shouldn’t say a different world. I think I never accounted in law school for actually enjoying
the sort of multidisciplinary skills that are involved in a courtroom
theater whether you're the lawyer or the judge.
And the challenge and the sort of enjoyment of fitting in to society that way as opposed to any other way and I guess, you know, I mean, I think teachers sometimes say that, you know.
They might say being a professor is obviously the top of the heap, but you know
teaching third grade every day was just wonderful the way they felt that,
you know, each year they had a new pile of third graders and by the end of the year 15 kids that didn’t know long division knew long division and they just really felt it.
It really was more interesting to them to fit in that way than it was to go be a professor even if it had more prestige, but, you know, there's a --
KAREN BREWSTER: I want to take a break for a second.
BEVERLY CUTLER: I didn’t say that law school when I went was definitely a male thing.
It was not like today where the law schools are fifty percent women.
I think there were maybe 25 women in my law school class of almost 200, maybe 175, so 25 out of 175.
And we used to joke that of the 25, 12 of them were weird
and only 12 of us came like straight from college to law school.
I mean there were women like your age and your age, you know,
who were there for a second or third career.
And so there really were not a lot of girlfriends to be had in law school, but a few relationships that
were made I think were very strong because it was such a, you know, a small group.
MARGARET RUSSELL: Do you think your education in an all girls high school helped with the confidence struggle for you to go ahead in your education? I think I've heard Justice Fabe --
BEVERLY CUTLER: I think -- MARGARET RUSSELL: -- the cause of that --
BEVERLY CUTLER: Definitely. Definitely. Definitely. And it's kind of interesting. I went to two different all girls schools.
I went to a day school along with my older sister and she was very popular in athletics and the captain of the purple team and whatnot.
And I was in maybe in eighth or ninth grade and a friend of mine was being
allowed by her parents to go to boarding school and I was like I want to go to boarding school.
And again my dad was fascinated with this and he let me look at some boarding schools and go to a boarding school so I didn’t have to
go to the same school my sister was going to, not that we didn’t get along, but I think he appreciated it's sometimes hard being in the shadow of someone.
And I went to an all girls school that it's not just the school but 24/7.
Of course, we didn’t use that phrase back then, but now everyone knows what it means. But
we were away from our parents and having to
cope in groups of girls, whether it was, you know, the after classes clubs, the sports teams, the chapel line, the dinner, waitressing and all of that stuff.
And it was a school of 200 girls in Connecticut.
And I think that had the most in some ways --
I think the school I went to in DC was actually a better school academically, but I think the experience of
at 15 being 24/7 away from all of your family members is actually pretty helpful in the long run
in developing some sense of - I don’t know if confidence is the right word - but some sense of who you are distinct from
all of your blood relatives, so that you develop a sense of self and hopefully --
I mean I think everyone works toward developing a sense of self, but there's a time at which, you know, you go through a lot of bad things in your life and you just have to come back to yourself and figure out who --
who you are and what you can do about your situation and not blame anything on anybody and not look to other people, but for solutions but just try to figure out how you can
put your left foot in front of your right foot and keep going.
And I guess once you -- I guess maybe that's the same as confidence.
I don’t know, but I --
even with my own kids I do notice -- I always kind of want -- now that phone is just buzzing. Just let it buzz.
MARGARET RUSSELL: -- then kind of -- I think that's why she focused on confidence.
BEVERLY CUTLER: I think that's -- I mean and that's definitely true. I had no concept that --
MARGARET RUSSELL: Are we back on record?
KAREN BREWSTER: Yes.
BEVERLY CUTLER: I really didn’t have any concept that it wasn’t cool to answer the questions in class.
In that boys would look down on you. Of course, I never went to school with boys starting in sixth grade.
I don’t remember in fifth grade, fourth grade, if that was an issue, you know, about girls showing up boys.
But even in an all girls school there were, you know, there's some competitiveness about who's,
you know, got good grades and who doesn’t or who the teachers like or who they don’t or how you handle
the situation if you just find out that you are capable.
And the school I went to I really -- I mean I really did have that experience of being at the top of the class in almost every subject
and so in some ways that's good preparation for life -- in some ways that's terrible for life because if you can win,
you know, the math prize and the science prize and the English prize and the French prize and
you're only in a school of 200 at some point you have to learn that the world is a lot bigger, you know, than you are, but --
MARGARET RUSSELL: Did you find that out in spades when you got to Yale Law School?
BEVERLY CUTLER: For sure Yale was, you know, it was kind of interesting. I didn’t ever feel at the bottom of the class.
I didn’t feel at the top of the class. I think I didn’t --
And it may just be a statement about being a young woman between 22 and 25,
and it being also a really different time in our culture, but
I was just happy to get through with the equivalent of B’s, you know. I wasn’t really trying to be at the top of the class or trying to be on Law Review.
I just had no -- I don’t want to say I had no interest in excelling at law school, but I had no interest in
getting the best grades as opposed to just good grades.
And you weren’t working to get into somewhere else.
To me, like when you were in high school you were schooled you need good grades and work hard to get into college.
And then in college you needed -- once you decided you wanted to go to grad school -- good grades and to work hard and to have teacher recommendations and somehow --
and maybe also like I said I had had a marriage that didn’t work out so well, you know, other things going on in your mind that you just
are not really that focused on -- I mean I really took -- I took a lot of classes that I enjoyed. I completely devoted myself to the classes.
I just wasn’t really hung up on being at the top of the class and I have to --
I will admit I had no idea what I wanted to do when I got out and one thing that was
kind of intimating to me was that so many of the other classmates they knew what they wanted to do.
They all wanted to go be corporate lawyers and -- I’m exaggerating.
That’s not true that they all wanted to, but, you know, with the Yale Law School that I went to was full of guys
who were number one or number two maybe in their class at the University of Texas or the University of Kansas or whatever as undergrads and they were just totally focused.
They were hometown boy makes good.
There were some there from Yale and Princeton and Harvard too, but there were a whole lot that were just determined to go
to Wall Street and live the dream that they had sort of come to represent for their family.
And that was amazing to me that they knew what they wanted.
I had no idea what I wanted to do with law.
I think I had always found history -- I was a history major in college, American History.
And found American history really interesting -- found, you know, the issues of civil rights and civil liberties very interesting even as an undergrad,
but I certainly didn’t have a clue what you would do with it.
And it strikes me as funny now in the sense of I also had no clue what the judicial clerkships were all about
and all these people were scurrying around applying for clerkships.
I didn’t know what they were doing.
I didn’t, you know, and they were talking about circuit court clerkships and federal court clerkships and I never ever applied for a clerkship.
I just -- I just was floating.
I was a young 20’s female just sort of floating waiting for something to put definition or direction on your life I guess.
MARGARET RUSSELL: Is there anything you missed that you wish you hadn’t?
BEVERLY CUTLER: You mean in law school?
MARGARET RUSSELL: In, and afterwards in terms of clerkships or any of that?
BEVERLY CUTLER: No, I’m sure it would have been wonderful to clerk for a judge. I think
I shouldn’t say the vast majority of judges, but certainly most of our state court judges clerked for somebody whether it was here or some place else.
I just -- I don’t know for some reason I came out of college really wanting to go to law school.
I almost went -- actually you said you were from Minnesota, right. I almost went to Wisconsin Law School.
I really liked it. It just felt sort of free and mid-westerny and I think I was maybe wait listed at Berkeley and, you know, Yale was the best school I got into so I went there.
But I think I just was at a time in my life where I just wasn’t as driven as today’s kids are who --
who go there because it does seem that now everybody is from the minute they hit law school completely focused on building a career and already deciding well I want to major in International Law or, you know.
I guess I'd always taken education for granted, which is a sad thing to say, but I had and so to me going to law school was another education
which I was very privileged to have, but I didn’t look at it from the beginning as now what do I need to do here to be a, you know,
mover and shaker in the world or pay a lot of money.
I also think -- and maybe we're digressing too much, but back in the day that I went to law school economics as a subject, guys were starting to major in and it was starting to be quite a social science.
Most girls had almost no economics background and no economics interest and that whole, you know, laws of business or running a business
it just wasn’t out there yet and so that -- I just looked at going to law school as a continuation of liberal arts education.
I think it's just really, really different today and that sounds like even when you went it was pretty different.
You know, that you were much more focused on what am I going to do.
I shouldn’t be here unless I want to do a career with this.
And I should start picking things and directing myself into a career as opposed to just say well I’ll just go to school for three years and see what happens when I get out.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I'm going to get us back to Alaska and your coming here and the first job you had when you came to Alaska. Can you tell us about that?
BEVERLY CUTLER: I was a research attorney for an LEAA funded position at the Alaska Judicial Council under the executive director at the time who was Bob Hicks,
who's in our bar directory as R. Eldridge Hicks, but has always been known as Bob Hicks, who is kind of,
you know, the legal community was pretty small here in the early 70’s. He had been a clerk for I think Justice Dimond that you know the Dimond -- all the D-I-M-O-N-D stuff is named for and --
KAREN BREWSTER: What does LEAA --
BEVERLY CUTLER: LEAA was the Lyndon -- President Lyndon Johnson civil rights legal assistance program called the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, you know, a bunch of
public money funneled into jobs where people would improve the administration of the law in the civil rights arenas including,
you know, the way it said Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, how laws should be enforced fairly against,
you know, the whole George Wallace background of the South and whatnot.
And so the Judicial Council, which if this was ’74 Alaska had been a state for 15 years, ’59 to ’74, you know, the Judicial Council
evidently got some money to study. And that was the purpose of hiring me
to study the bail and sentencing issues in Alaska with regard to Alaska Natives and any other minorities and whether they were getting fair treatment or not.
And so our little one year research project just consisted of one data person and all the data was entered by hand, you know.
And she's still at the Judicial Council, this person. We're still very close because we were office mates, you know, way back in the day.
And so we wrote -- I did that -- we did this study of bail and sentencing in Alaska pretty much took all year.
And that's how I met -- I think I mentioned interviewed a lot of district attorneys and public defenders and
some of the trial court judges because the study was partly statistical, very rudimentary because I mean statistics was rudimentary.
I mean some of our -- like we had, you know, five black guys for robbery and five white guys for robbery, you know, is that really enough to be comparing, you know.
Five Fairbanks theft grand -- we had grand theft then.
We didn’t have the criminal code we have today.
Five Juneau ones. I mean can you compare, but that is all there were. There weren’t more than five Fairbanks’ sentences that year for, you know, the equivalent of grand larceny or whatever.
So the guy that directed me said he wanted some of the study to be --
I forget what the right term is, but where people tell their impressions of what's going on
and they're telling you historically what they think they see in their job in terms of discrimination even though they're not using data.
They're just telling you what it looks like to them from what they see.
KAREN BREWSTER: So that lasted a year and then you went into the public defender?
BEVERLY CUTLER: I actually took the bar in February.
And I came in May, so I didn’t take a bar that summer,
which is when a lot of people would take a bar.
And the fellow running the public defender office and is another wonderful Alaskan.
He wasn’t a judge here he became a judge in the Mariana Islands, but I’m sure you've heard the name Herb Soll. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
BEVERLY CUTLER: Heard that name. Herb was the head PD.
And he actually came to me and asked me if I would be interested in going to work for them
because he had an opening in Kenai that he needed to fill. And, of course, I was very flattered.
I'm sure I had interviewed him for part of the study, but I hadn’t passed the bar yet.
So I was like well, you know, I hope I pass the bar and he said well,
one reason he was coming to me was that somebody else who really wanted the Kenai job had failed the bar,
in the previous bar, and they had taken it again, but he wanted to have somebody in case they didn’t pass it on the second, but if they did pass it then I wouldn’t have to go to Kenai.
And he would try to find a slot for me in Anchorage, which is what happened.
And I was a little apprehensive about Kenai because Kenai was a complete one lawyer office then
and so you wouldn’t have had any lawyer to learn from and they were certainly --
at least what I had heard was they were not -- they were just kind of a bunch of ratty lawyers not looking forward to having some woman in their court world because I don’t think there was a single woman attorney in Kenai.
There weren’t that many attorneys in Kenai, but I mean that -- that was sort of the vibes I got that the DA was already like hoping that it wouldn’t happen, you know, but --
KAREN BREWSTER: So what was that like in the public defender’s office in Anchorage?
BEVERLY CUTLER: Well, I actually wrote a pretty long article for the Bar Rag, which is our bar newspaper that really depicts those days.
I don’t know if -- I mean, of course, you can pick out the highlights, but I was inspired to write this article when a couple of the lawyers I worked with
died separately in horrible typical awful Alaska tragedies like plane crashes and scuba diving accidents and stuff, but so
we really did try to chronicle in that, you know, what the public defender agency life was like in the 70’s.
It was just very inspiring, you know. I remember -- and it was inspiring largely because of the people and it probably sounds
sort of elitist to say this, but, you know, they were just really good lawyers with really good educations,
wonderful personalities, very “high end” people they would be anywhere and they now turned into, you know, the Jeff Feldmans and Eric Sanders and so forth of this world.
I mean those were our peers and actually Jeff and Eric came along a little bit after me, but
Brian Shortell was the head of the PD for most of the time I worked there because Herb had already left.
He left to go be the federal public defender in the Mariana Islands and then he became a judge in the Mariana Islands and he's still -- I think he does retired judge work there now.
KAREN BREWSTER: What --
BEVERLY CUTLER: It was just --
KAREN BREWSTER: How did it feel becoming a public defender and doing that kind of work?
BEVERLY CUTLER: You know it's hard to sum up. It's certainly not anything I ever envisioned doing in law school.
When I did my interviews with DA’s and PD’s and trial court judges, I met people like Vic Carlson, who had been a PD. He was a judge, of course,
and some of the Legal Services attorneys like Roger DuBrock.
And I think Roger was being an acting judge then.
And it just seemed to me personality wise I felt much more simpatico with the half dozen or so public defenders I met than the half dozen or so DA’s. I don’t think that would be true today again. I think that's very different. Of course,
there were no women DA’s. There was one woman PD.
There were actually two. There was Susan Burke in Fairbanks. I think she was in Fairbanks then not Juneau,
but I think and I'm sure that other trial court judges have said the same thing.
I think there was something, not so much appealing about working for the PD itself to be out defending the downtrodden and so forth,
but there was something alluring about working in a job where you constantly went into court, you constantly had --
I don’t quite know how to describe this, but there's some combination of fact, storytelling, trying to get to the bottom of something,
you know. You try to figure out what really happened and then what's the best way you can
present it. I mean a lot of public defending is just trying to get your guy a sentence that's not unreasonably harsh.
I mean most of your clients are guilty of something, getting them convicted of something less than what they were charged with.
Getting them out of jail and bail for a couple weeks so they can, you know, get their affairs organized before they go to jail for a long time or whatever.
Now there's probably a lot more help with mental health and addiction issues.
I mean there was then too, but I think it's been brought out better, much better in the last couple decades then, you know, back in the day.
But it was certainly -- somehow in the courtroom there's this combination of pop psychology, debate, theatrics mixed with real philosophical questions about
what should be and what shouldn’t be and what can we do about what happened and
how can we go forward and what are we solving by doing this case anyway.
I mean, you know, I mean the basics even in a civil lawsuit say you get a judgment for seven million.
If you can’t collect it, you know, what are we solving, you know.
The -- I don’t know I just completely found that -- I think the right word maybe is enlivening or it made me feel alive because it was very alive.
It was almost the complete opposite of academia, which is where I had been
for my, you know, previous 19 years it seems and something about it just really --
I mean I did like, you know, most people are not that horrible.
Most of the criminals are not that bad.
I mean there are a few who are, but I mean even the first rape case that I did.
For some reason you just go in there and do it and it's not like you put on what do the race horse wear, you know.
KAREN BREWSTER: Blinders.
BEVERLY CUTLER: The blinders so he can’t see on either side, but,
you know, you have a job to do just as much. I’m going to make an analogy that's not really a good analogy, but if you were in a school,
you could look at the classroom teachers and say, you know, that's very nice, but my job is to teach Special Ed and my job is just to teach these three very disabled kids,
including just half my day is spent taking them to the bathroom and back, but this is my job and they are benefitting from my -- this is my little cog.
This is the cog that I run and really enjoy doing that and not feel like
the classroom teachers are the only ones doing any good or, you know, it's not like the DA’s --
DA’s are not the classroom teachers, but it's not like prosecuting crime is the only honorable thing because crime is terrible.
I guess also I didn’t -- in the early days I didn’t think much about the adversary system and the whole thing about,
you know, if there's an adversary on each side than hopefully we have a fair result,
but in later years I think I see more of that and I also --
I don’t know how to say this. I think the public defender job I had was the first job I had in the legal field,
including the one I had at the Judicial Council, where I felt finally you are doing this job to serve this person.
You are not doing this job to get a grade in the course.
You are not doing this job so that your boss will think you are wonderful, that you're really good stuff and tell everybody else how good you are.
You're not doing this job so you can get another job.
You’re just doing what this person needs you to do, which is stand up and try to help them get out on bail or explain to them that they're not going to get out on bail or whatever.
And I think that I see now that I had spent so much of my life performing
for either the grade or so that the higher ups or your father or your mother or whoever would, you know, believe you were -- would praise you
and say how good you were and -- or with an eye toward getting the next job.
It was just really nice to be doing something where that was not the program
and maybe that just made me feel like -- ah, finally I’m just living for myself, you know, and not trying to -- to just continue to climb up, so.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you did move on to becoming a district judge not long thereafter, right?
BEVERLY CUTLER: Right. I was really only in the public defender officer for maybe close to three years and no, I was very young and it was just one of those serendipitous things. But basically --
of course, I had spent my two and a half, three years at the public defender just doing,
you know, being in court all day in either district or superior court and I probably did district court for a year and a half and then superior court for about a year, which is the felonies and --
KAREN BREWSTER: What is that noise?
BEVERLY CUTLER: That's that heater coming on.
I always think it's so quiet out here.
KAREN BREWSTER: I know, until you're on a microphone. But keep going.
BEVERLY CUTLER: -- you only --
KAREN BREWSTER: So how you became a district judge?
BEVERLY CUTLER: You only had to be a member of the bar for one year in those days to become a district court judge, only one year, if you can believe that.
Now it's five years and you had to have practiced for five years now.
You only had to practice one year. It was five for superior court, I think, from the very beginning, but district court was different.
And there were three women district court judges in Alaska, all of whom were much elder.
One was Nora Guinn. One was a woman in Fairbanks named Mary Alice Miller,
who had also maybe been a schoolteacher or something for 20 years then gone to law school and come back and entered the,
you know, career of law as a 40 plus year old, so it wasn’t like a sweet young thing being, you know, on the bench.
And then the one in Anchorage whom I replaced was named Dorothy Tyner, and I believe she is no longer alive.
She was actually quite a bright woman and quite a poised woman.
Also definitely probably second career lawyer because she was easily I’m sure my age now when I knew her as a judge.
I remember doing a few trials in front of her, but she was retiring.
Just a regular straight retirement and I just I, you know, I guess -- I don’t know if somebody suggested it to me or I just on my own thought, you know,
I would love to be doing DUI trials and prostitution trials and gambling trials as a district court judge and we did have three or four young male judges.
So, you know, that possibility was there.
We had -- in fact, they had made a guy named Laurel Peterson (phonetic), who had did nothing but be a law clerk for one year an acting district court judge.
The real inspiration was Alex Bryner.
He was a district court judge. And he was one of the young ones. Of course, he didn’t stay very long.
Very soon after I got appointed he took the job being Carter’s US Attorney, so he went over to federal court to be the US Attorney and then came back to state court to the court of appeals when that happened.
But I remember being disappointed because I really did think it would be great to work with him and he was so fun, such a nice person.
I mean how could you not love having that kind of a person for a peer?
And there was one other young one who is Elaine Andrews' husband now, Roger DuBrock.
And he had been a district court judge in Sitka, but for some reason he was on assignment to Anchorage for 90 days and I remember doing a trial in front of him.
And he was probably 28 or 29 years old.
I mean, you know, this was Alaska in the 70’s.
And I remember him telling me afterwards that -- he was really nice and he complimented the job I had done in some prostitution case or something.
And he said, you should stand up when you address the court. And I thought oh, okay, I’ll stand up because,
you know, he was just trying to say you really, you know, you will make a better --
you will be a more effective litigation -- be afraid to stand up and be noticed.
And I think women in general we always try not to be noticed sometimes.
We think it's better not to be noticed and so I just --
it hadn’t occurred to me, I guess, to be sure and stand up when you address the court.
But the other person I think that was really inspirational to me was Vic Carlson.
I just thought he -- the style of judge that he was in the 70’s. He was a very well liked felony judge for the Anchorage public defenders.
Of course, he had been a public defender, but he also really understood what some judges never understand when the public defender comes in there, which is don’t kill the messenger.
I mean how hard is that, you know, how hard is that, but so many of them immediately act like the public defender is the messenger -- is the enemy and you're, you know,
if you believe in the adversary system, there's no reason to kill that messenger and just, you know,
but Vic just had a wonderful, respectful way of dealing with everyone, but also of getting it done pretty quickly.
And I thought, you know, that I would enjoy trying to do -- I thought it would be great if they had somebody in district court that could
get stuff done respectfully but quickly, you know.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you weren't the -- you were what like 28 when you became district judge? You weren’t the youngest to have been appointed in your --
BEVERLY CUTLER: I don’t think so and I think the other guy --
KAREN BREWSTER: It seems awfully young.
BEVERLY CUTLER: -- who was also very young and you might have come across this name. John Bosshard.
Is that name ringing a bell? John inherited -- he was an only child and in his young 30’s he inherited
whatever there was to inherit from his parents which was a lot and he left Alaska.
And -- but he does come back from time to time and he goes and sees I think Roger DuBrock and Elaine Andrews sometimes and maybe you could find out more from him.
But he was the judge in Valdez. Because Valdez was a burgeoning pipeline community.
And I remember going to both Valdez and Glennallen for public defender work as well as, you know, early
judge work late 70’s and they were really popping, thriving communities and -- because you only had to be a member of the bar for a year and have practiced for a year.
I think John got the job there because he'd been the -- maybe the -- Legal Services attorney there first.
But, no, there were about five of us.
I was the only female, but there were five of us that were definitely, you know,
in today’s world would be considered kids pretty recently out of school.
And then along came pretty soon Jane Kauvar and Natalie Finn. I don’t remember in what order.
KAREN BREWSTER: It seems so young to be a judge, you know, 28 years old.
BEVERLY CUTLER: Yeah. I agree. I mean I couldn’t agree more.
I think for the way the district court workload was then, which was by and large, you know, 95% of it was criminal misdemeanor cases.
If you had been a devoted public defender for two years and had spent at least a year of that in district court,
you could certainly do the job because a lot of it was just really -- I mean, yes, sometimes you had to make legal decisions, you know,
about the validity of some breathalyzer issue or something or even in a civil case, you know.
Do we have minimum contacts or something, but they were pretty -- it wasn’t super scholarly work
and I think it really required more somebody who really had the verve and the interest
to run the courtroom and, you know, a lot of it's just taking pleas and imposing sentences or making endless bail decisions. But once you've been a public defender, even for a year,
I think you have a pretty good sixth sense about what's a good bail decision, what isn’t, what's safe, what isn’t, who's fooling you and who is not.
It's not that they're all perfect, but I don’t -- I don’t say you don’t need that much experience --
I guess you do, but you've just packed so much experience into those years because the office is so busy.
KAREN BREWSTER: And that was -- so you started as the PD in the PD’s office in --
Oh no, wait, you started as a district judge in ’77 and then in ’82 is when you became appointed to the superior court and starting out here at Palmer?
BEVERLY CUTLER: Right.
KAREN BREWSTER: So can you talk about that superior court appointment and coming out here to Palmer?
MARGARET RUSSELL: And just to interject -- BEVERLY CUTLER: Yeah.
MARGARET RUSSELL: Were you living in Anchorage the entire time you were on the district court?
BEVERLY CUTLER: I was living in Anchorage all that time, but the way that all intersects is that in ’77 actually
my husband and I -- had all my kids with, my second ex-husband I guess I have to say truthfully.
He and I had bought this property here, which was a MatSu Borough farm property in -- they had a -- They were going to have a sale.
The MatSu Borough used to auction off this virgin farmland; it was completely restricted for farming.
I mean they were trying to keep farms going for revenue raising, because they had plenty of land and the valley wasn’t that developed.
And they had had a sale planned in ’76 that they canceled because there was
I don’t know if you were -- any of this come across in your history research but there was a big move the capitol to Willow move.
And so if they had moved the capitol to Willow this would kind of have been in a straight line going from --
to Willow and so they had different plans for this parcel.
So anyhow, they upped and had the sale suddenly in ’77 once the capitol move got voted down.
And so we just snatched up this land, I mean for I think it was $39,000 for 220 acres.
What do we know we were 26, 27 years old we had, you know, a truck and a garden, you know.
So we had some vision of -- we were not even married then.
We had some vision of, you know, having the wonderful -- we had each been here two or
three years at that point. You know, the wonderful Alaska dream of getting some land and building a house.
So I really, the whole time I was the district court judge I hoped they would put a district court in Palmer.
You know we had a magistrate in Palmer for many, many years, another woman.
A magistrate named Dorothy Saxton who was very well loved and kind of a fixture of the early statehood community in the valley.
But they made it a superior court largely because, if I understand the history correctly,
there was a big concern about being able to do full service for juveniles and, of course, district court would be limited jurisdiction for
juvenile justice delinquency and the child needing that kind of thing.
Kertulla, of course, Senator Kertulla was the very powerful legislator and the valley was kind of Democrat in those days, surprisingly.
And there were just a handful of lawyers out here and they were -- the magistrate they had was not a law trained magistrate like Karen Hegyi was.
She was a lay magistrate, so they were really kind of itching to -- the valley was getting to be around 20,000 people.
I mean it was smaller than that when I moved here, but it was getting to 20 or 25,000 people, I think, and they just thought it was time.
So they made a superior court judge for here and for Barrow in the very same bill and it was like, oops, I’ll never get that job.
If it was district court, I would have a chance.
And somehow -- and this really is just a very wonderful little story and then I’ll be quiet.
But somehow I did get the job and Mike Jeffery got the --
KAREN BREWSTER: The Barrow job.
BEVERLY CUTLER: Barrow job and we were appointed by Governor Hammond.
I was very lucky. Hammond had appointed me to the district court position in Anchorage
and so at least it was my second go around with him,
so that was very fortunate because I think that really helped that he had appointed me and it had worked out so it was easier to be appointed by that same
governor, you know, to another one if they trusted you and felt that their choice had, you know, proved okay.
But, you know, you're so nervous when you're waiting out to hear if you're going to get a job like that even though life goes on, but, you know, every time the phone rings you're kind of on pins and needles. And
I got this call from Mike Jeffery and he says I think you're about to get a phone call and I said,
oh, my gosh, how do you -- he says well I just got my phone call he said.
And it started with Mr. Cutler, I mean Mr. Jeffery, this is Governor Hammond.
And so he said I think you're going to get a phone call.
So we've always had that wonderful tie over -- and I was really tickled.
Mike actually came all the way from Barrow to Palmer when we had a little retirement thing for me when I retired.
I just thought it was so nice of him, you know. It had been 27 years since that phone call. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.